There’s A LOT of gear you need to bring on a day hike, but at the most basic level it comes down to water, food, layers, first aid kit, and a backpack. Depending on your adventure, you may need more accessories like a GPS device, bug spray, etc., so keep reading to learn about everything you could possibly need to bring on your next adventure!
As the sun emerges over the horizon and the birds begin their morning symphony, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as gearing up for a day hike. The rustling trees, winding paths, and breathtaking views make each step on the trail a memory in the making. However, it’s not just the landscape that ensures a successful and enjoyable journey, but also how well-prepared you are for it.
One question that every hiker, novice or experienced, should ask before venturing out is, “What should I bring on a hike?” The answer to this question goes beyond just lacing up a good pair of boots or carrying a water bottle. Proper preparation involves a comprehensive checklist that considers your safety, sustenance, and the unpredictability of Mother Nature.
Let’s explore a detailed day hiking essentials checklist, ensuring you have all the necessary gear, tools, and supplies for a memorable and safe hiking experience. From the essentials that belong in every hiker’s backpack to specific items tailored for your unique trail, this guide will prepare you for the amazing outdoor adventure that lies ahead.
The Complete List of Day Hiking Essentials
Here’s a comprehensive list of everything you could need for a day hike. This list is purposefully quite long and includes a variety of things you may or may not need for your specific situation. You should always have the 10 essentials on hand, but otherwise the rest is up to you!
- Hiking Gear
- Food & Water
- Navigation & Gear
- First Aid & Emergency
- Health & Hygiene
A good day pack (like this Osprey Daylite Plus) will store all your necessary outdoor gear plus anything extra you plan on bringing. This includes water, food, extra clothing and layers, a GPS device, and more.
A typical day hiking pack should be somewhere around 20-40 liters depending on your needs. We mostly use our Osprey, which is 20 liters, but we also have a 40 liter pack for winter hikes and skinning that require thicker jackets and layers. If you’re going to be hiking in the rain or need to be prepared for rain, make sure your pack has a waterproof pack cover just in case.
Trekking poles aren’t required, but many hikers can take advantage of their benefits. We don’t always hike with hiking poles, but we do bring them along for strenuous all day hikes and they can a huge difference.
What you wear is going to be one of the biggest things that can make or break your hike, so make sure you dress appropriately. This means checking the weather beforehand, ranging from several days before to the morning of your hike.
If you are stuck between long sleeve or short sleeve and either would be ideal for the weather conditions, that choice is personal preference. Some people like wearing long sleeves and pants for UPF and bug protection, while other like short sleeves and shorts for better breathability.
No matter the temperature, it’s always a good idea to avoid cotton clothing. Choose synthetic materials or Merino wool instead – they are better at wicking sweat and temperature regulation.
- Sweat wicking shirt that’s UPF rated – long sleeve or short sleeve depending on weather and personal preference.
- Moisture wicking under garments
- Pants or shorts depending on personal preference and weather.
Weather Appropriate Clothing & Layers
Make sure your clothing is UPF rated for sun protection, especially if you’re going to be hiking in hot weather. If you are hiking in winter or cold weather, layer up accordingly and take advantage of the extra warmth of base layers paired with winter outer layers.
- Rain jacket – always bring a rain jacket, even if it’s not supposed to rain. If anything, it’s a great insulating layer if you are exposed to wind. We highly recommend our Patagonia Torrentshell 3L for both men and women.
- Rain pants – for extremely wet conditions.
- Lightweight fleece or puffy jacket – for cool and cold weather only. Patagonia makes the best lightweight, packable puffy jacket with their Nano Puff for men and women.
- Winter jacket and pants – waterproof layers for winter hiking only.
- Long underwear or base layers under your clothing layers.
- Gaiters for snowy conditions or for hiking trip that goes off trail.
- Any extra clothes* you could possibly need.
- Sunglasses* are must-have for most every hike. Make sure they’re sturdy. If you’re hiking near water like a lake or stream, considering using polarized glasses to help reduce glare.
- Hat – a ball cap will keep the hair out of your eyes but a wide brim hiking hat will protect your whole head from the sun’s rays. In the winter, wear a beanie to keep your head and ears warm.
- A bandana or Buff can function in many different ways and is a great piece of gear to always bring along. It can be worn on your face, neck, and head, and also works great as a cooling device when dipped it cool water and placed around your neck.
- Mittens or gloves for cold weather. If it’s really cold, consider bringing along Hot Hands to keep your digits warm.
Take care of your feet and they will take care of you. They’re required to get from point A to point B and require proper care while hiking. It’s personal preference whether you like boots or shoes more, but make sure you choose the right hiking shoes for your style of hiking.
- Boots or shoes that are well suited for the terrain you’re going to encounter. Boots are best for long distances, heavy packs, rough terrain, and off trail hiking. Shoes like trail runners are better for shorter distances, lighter packs, and easier terrain. Always break in your hiking boots beforehand and waterproof them as needed.
- Hiking socks made of Merino wool. Never wear cotton and always wear a pair of good hiking socks. Learn how to choose the right pair here or shop for summer hiking socks if you plan on experiencing warmer weather while outdoors.
- If you frequently are exposed to a lot of moisture (like rain and river crossings) and want some sock alternatives, consider looking at waterproof socks or neoprene socks.
- Liner socks are great for blister prevention.
- Traction devices like microspikes or snowshoes are a must-have for snowy winter hikes.
Food & Water
Snacks are one of the best parts of hiking, which we jokingly call scenic snacking. Learn about the best hiking snacks and what to eat before a hike for proper fueling. If you’re going to be on the trail through a mealtime, bring food* that you can stop and eat – our go to lunch is a peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich. Always bring more than you think in case of emergency, and know that you’ll probably burn more calories than you realize so it’s a good idea to bring extra food.
Water* can be in the form of bottle(s) or a reservoir in your backpack. A reservoir is usually sold separately but it’s worth it. It’s really easy to access, so it encourages you to stay hydrated. If you choose a water bottle, there are a few great options. You could go for something lightweight like a Nalgene, something insulated like a Hydro Flask Trail Series, or something that filters water like a Grayl GeoPress.
It’s essential that you pack more than enough for your hike plus some extra just in case. We also carry a lightweight filtration system so we can always get more water if we need some. Read on to learn more about how to treat water in the backcountry.
Navigation & Gear
Navigation* can mean a variety of things, but basically have a good idea of where you’re going and some type of device to help you get there and back.
- Phone with directions. There’s several options for finding trails and we highly encourage you to use them. Some examples are All Trails, Gaia, Hiking Project, and Maps 3D Pro.
- GPS and/or satellite messenger like the Garmin InReach Explorer. For most of these devices, you must pay for a monthly subscription in order to activate GPS texting and SOS capabilities. We use ours on every hike and always have an active subscription – it gives peace of mind to us and to our loved ones.
- A compass* is one of the 10 essentials but it doesn’t have to be large. We have a little keychain compass although something more robust may be beneficial for longer day hikes or going off trail.
- Map (digital or physical) – some apps like All Trails allow you to download offline directions for use in areas without cell service. If you haven’t hiked a trail before, we highly recommend using this function. For physical maps, National Geographic has an extensive collection of map packs for various locations, regions, and trails around the world.
Binoculars can be handy for bird watching or viewing anything from a distance.
Most people have a good camera on this phone nowadays, but it’s always fun to bring along a real camera and get some awesome shots. Don’t forget a tripod if you need one. We always bring along our GoPro, which is an awesome action camera that’s durable and has a long battery life.
Cell phone – who goes anywhere without one of these? If you’re concerned about battery life, bring a portable power bank to recharge your devices.
Bring along a knife or multi-tool* to have on hand as part of the 10 essentials.
First Aid Kit and Emergency
- First aid kit* with blister treatment like Moleskin, duct tape, or Rock Tape. You should never let a blister get out of hand, so make sure you treat hot spots as they occur.
- Lighter, matches, and fire starter* for emergency situations where you need to start and maintain a fire. Wolf and Grizzly makes and a great fire starter and spark ignitor.
- Emergency shelter* for emergency use like this SOL Emergency Blanket. This should be small, lightweight, and only used for emergencies.
- Head lamp or flash light plus batteries* just in case you are going to be hiking in the dark, even if it’s not on purpose. Night hiking can be a great alternative to summer hiking in the heat, and that definitely requires the appropriate lighting. Even if you don’t plan on being out after dark, stuff happens and you should be prepared just in case your hike takes longer than planned.
- Bear spray is highly recommended when you’re in Grizzly Bear country like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. In black bear country, the regulations are a little different.
Health & Hygiene
- Hand sanitizer for after going to the bathroom and before eating.
- Menstrual products (if needed) – just make sure you have a way to pack out any waste so you can follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
- Any medicine you or your hiking partner(s) need. This includes prescriptions but also travel size portions of basic medicines like Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, and Dramamine.
- Trowel and toilet paper or WAG bags depending on the area’s regulations for how to handle human solid waste. A trowel will let you bury your solid waste and maybe the toilet paper depending on local rules, or WAG bags are a safe way to pack out your waste in areas that are prone to contamination. Learn how to properly poop in the woods so you’re prepared for nature’s call.
- A pee rag (like Kula Cloth) for women can be a lifesaver and is a great alternative to dealing with toilet paper when going #1.
- Insect repellant* helps keep mosquitos away and can help prevent ticks as well. If you’re hiking in places that are well known for their ticks (especially Deer Ticks that carry Lyme Disease), wear long pants and tall socks. You could also treat your clothes with permethrin with Sawyer Insect Repellent if you are really concerned about ticks. We use Ben’s 100% Deet and carry the bottle with us on longer day hikes.
- Sunscreen* should be applied before and during your hike to prevent unnecessary sunburn and subsequent dehydration. Make sure it’s at least 30 SPF or higher and is sweat-proof so you don’t have to reapply as often. We love carrying a face stick so we can reapply on the more exposed parts as frequently as needed.
- SPF lip balm is great to have on hand at all times. Not only does it work like sunscreen but lip balm is a must-have on the trail. We love the flavors from this Sun Bum 3pack.
- A lightweight microfiber towel could be a great add-on if you’re hiking to a swimming hole or waterfall. This is an especially awesome way to survive the dog days of summer while still getting outside!
*one of the 10 essentials that is recommended for every hike.
What to NOT Bring on a Day Hike
While this list is pretty exhaustive of stuff you should bring while hiking, there’s lots of things you shouldn’t bring as well. Here’s a list of things you should leave at home:
- Valuables like jewelry, cash, and makeup.
- Heavy items like heavy camera lenses and books that will place unnecessary strain on you and your backpack.
- Dark clothing like black and navy. This will make the sun feel more intense.
- Pets aren’t allowed on every trail, so don’t bring them in areas where they aren’t welcome. Some examples include most national park trails and some national forests.
- Jeans aren’t meant for hiking so don’t wear them on the trail. Wear lightweight pants and shorts that are meant for athletic wear or hiking.
- Not everywhere is drone friendly, so look at local rules before flying.
As we conclude our journey through the day hiking essentials checklist, remember that proper preparation is key to any successful hike. While it might seem daunting at first glance, each item on this list serves a crucial purpose in ensuring your safety, comfort, and overall enjoyment on the trail. And with time, packing will become second nature, as seamless as lacing up your hiking boots.
So, gear up, fill your backpack with all this essential day hiking gear, and step out into the wild. With the whispering trees as your chorus and the winding trails as your guide, let the adventure begin. Remember, every great hike starts with a single, well-prepared step. Happy hiking!